Ongoing Review of WordPress

Part 3 -- August Notes

Except for the fact that I still cannot get the "upload images" feature to work correctly and do all my image uploading with CUTEftp, I'm finding WordPress to be very sturdy. And I've gotten to the point where I can safely edit the index.PHP file in the "template" section of the blog admin pages. It's faster than ftp but if you really screw it up there is no "safe" file you can quickly load back onto the site. It would be a nice feature to immediately return to the previous PHP file. While I'm learning the PHP structure I play with the page a lot. With CSS I've fallen into the habit of using the CSS editor within Adobe GoLive, which has not given me much of a feel for the page parameters and so everything is an experiment. I have a couple of test blogs that I set up for extreme changes so I won't be disturbing readers on Dvorak Uncensored. This week I'm going to talk about alien art and advertising.

Using Alien Art

To save time, I'm taken the risky approach of using alien images for spot art on the site. These are images that are on other servers. You can right click on them to see where they came from. In some instances I have permission to do this, in most instances I'm following "fair use" principles. The risk is not so much the legality of offsite or poached images, but that the image can be changed or taken offline without my knowing it. The images that I've developed are on my server where they will always be. This is the way you should do it - keep control of the images. Once my readership increases enough I will stop using linked art.

You should note that it's not the missing image that is worrisome when you use this cheap trick. It's the fact that the images can be replaced by someone else on their server with something goofy or lewd. So when employing this trick make sure that the image is on a site where it is unlikely to be changed or dumped. The trick is to search for your images on Google's image search then see how it's used by the originating site. Do not use images that seem as if they are only temporary. Also be careful when the image takes too long to load. Find a different image.

In two months I've only had one image disappear and WordPress did a great job of replacing the image with the "alt" tag and didn't post a broken graphics icon. That was impressive because nothing looks so cheesy as that missing image icon on a site. That icon has appeared when I'm storing the images locally, but that's more controllable.

Most blogs do not use images at all and I have had complaints about it slowing down the site. I think art, photos and any sort of graphic just makes the page look better. This is despite the fact that I'm not doing much more than dropping in some art and not even wrapping text around it or anything fancy. In some instances all the art and photos make the site look less attractive or clunky. You have to decide what you like.

Blowing Out Frames

I have noticed that with WordPress it's easy to blow out the frames and cause some interesting cascading effects, especially with Microsoft IE, which doesn't seem to be as robust with PHP/CSS as Firefox. I have been surprised by the mess you often get with MSIE when an image is too large for my center column, which has a fixed value. The pages generally look better with Firefox.

Format Size

Over the past month I've been carefully tracking screen formats and browsers that people use. Most of the users are at 1024x768 with 1280x1024 close behind. I think it's now possible to do 1024x765 as the default and get away with it. The number of 800x600 users are fading fast. One solution is to have a variable text field that is optimized for 1024x768 but usable on an 800x600 screen. I'll try and implement this in the next month and report on it and how well it works. Right now my columns are fixed in size.

Adding Advertising

For the novice, it's kind of awkward to add advertising to the Index.php file. Since any PHP file can contain pure HTML it's not that hard. It's just finding where the HTML is going to end up that can be a problem. The layout of a PHP file is not intuitive and when combined with CSS you can make a mess if you do not place the advertising carefully.

There are two types of ads that I'm dropping on my site. First of all I want to minimize the amount of computer-related ads since I don't want to give the impression of potential conflicts-of-interest with my writing. Google Adsense sometimes drop them in, but I think that's fine since I'm not the one doing it anymore than I am at PC magazine. I should mention that I'm watching Adsense on the homepage, as you can see. Adsense has some serious issues with reading these PHP pages and figuring out what ads to run. You'll also see it used as a banner ad on these html pages.

Anyway, I'm also playing various "tower ads" I got by looking at affiliate programs. I'm not seeing much in the way of results. These ads just make the page messy, but I think I have to at least get some real numbers I can report on.

If you are learning PHP and cannot figure out the template and want to place an advertisement here or there, do spot testing. By this I mean open up the index.php template and find any spot on the template that you might think represents a good spot to drop an ad. Type the word TEST into the template then load it on the site and see where it appeared on the homepage. Since you probably will not do the PHO code yourself, the place where "test" appears is often a surprise. Make sure to place this word outside of any script code.

If it's a location you think would be good for an ad then cut and paste the ad code or your text or an image on top of that TEST text. Highlight the word TEST in the PHP file then hit PASTE to insert the code there. Then look at the page again to see how it looks. Be prepared to go back and tear out the inserted HTML. I recommend adding some space before and after the insertion so you can easily find it and remove it without much trouble. Unlike in the WordPress subsystem adding spaces to the index.php files does not necessary add space to the output except within strings.

Tracking Services

You can't have any fun with your blog if you don't incorporate some sort of tracking service. Most are free unless you get too busy then the fee is minimal. I am using two at any given time. The interesting thing is that all the numbers are different by about 10-15-percent. This makes me wonder. But the two script-based trackers I'm currently testing are and both give you plenty of information including who is looking at the site and where they come from. With these systems you sign up and you are assigned a javascript which you drop into your PHP file someplace. The instructions are clear on how to do this. Read about inserting ads (above) too. This is the same sort of thing but you care less about where it shows up unless you want to display something. I like to keep it stealth. There is enough garbage on the page already. These counters can tell repeat visitors from first time visitors - more or less. Very handy.


wo review part 1

wp review part 2

wp review part 3